The Past Is Raw Material

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

Last column I wrote about my love for Star Trek: Lower Decks, considering it a capstone to Star Trek. I felt there was no where for Star Trek to go after this, as it was both parody, home, and extrapolation – somewhat like a more serious Venture Brothers. The announcement of yet another Trek series set at an the (in)famous Starfleet Academy didn’t interest me unless, as I joked, it was more in the vein of college comedies like Animal House.

That statement led to some friends and I to an actual serious discussion about how yet another Star Trek show (which, again, I should note I’m usually tired of) might work out. We started asking what it would be like to see more focus different species and cultures in the Academy, really digging into the meandering if interesting Trek lore. In short, we did what Star Trek: Lower Decks had done, just in a different part of the setting.

Also, it will surprise absolutely no one who knows me that it made me further analyze the state of media.

I looked at our brainstorming and at Lower Decks, both taking established ideas and digging deep into them. Both involved mining current material I would consider stale and often overdone, and finding new takes. Both in a way treated something beloved – and rightfully so even if I have felt it’s overdone – and using it as raw material.

As much as I love original media and want to see new things, perhaps there is some virtue in treating creative works that might be stale, stagnant, or that have lost attention and reusing them. Treat them not as something to be devoted to, nor sit on a shelf, nor make endless sequels about – with all the rampant continuity modification. Treat it as something to be recycled.

I’ve written before about the shockingly good He-Man CGI reboot at Netflix which did exactly this to fantastic effect. We’ve seen the same thing with She-Ra– which perhaps suggests that many a toyetic cartoon is worthy of recycling. Something can be beloved and reused.

(Now I don’t expect an actual Star Trek total reboot, Paramount more seems to be trying to rewrite it incrementally. But I digress).

I think this “recycling” works because by taking something you love, analyzing it, and breaking it down you find what’s really good about it. Once you find that core, you can then build it back up again into something amazing – and perhaps better than the original, or at least more relevant.

Perhaps such thoughts are less relevant in the current media environment, of cinematic universes and suddenly-canceled brilliance. It’s also less relevant in an age of political and climate chaos. But perhaps if we can find the heart of something forgotten or overdone, maybe we’ll find something out about ourselves as well.

Steven Savage

The Capstone of Star Trek

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

I haven’t been interested in anything Star Trek in years. I mean, we’re kinda Voyager here. Yes I’ve heard great things about Discovery, I can appreciate the ideas behind Strange New Worlds retro-forward work. It’s just that I’m tired of Star Trek despite the fact that like many a geek, it was formative in my life.

But now Trek seems over-saturated and overdone. I mean it’s not Star Wars level and definitely not Marvel, but you know, haven’t we kind have done all of this? Do we have to keep rehashing things? What the hell is up with the various Spock plots and time travel? Can’t we, I dunno, move on for awhile?

So you’d think I’d be incredibility indifferent to the animated Trek dramedy, Lower Decks. I mean I even tried to get into it twice, and though I appreciated it, the show just didn’t do it for me. Well, didn’t do anything until a friend got into it, and I gave it one more spin.

Then I was hooked. On a Star Trek show.

If you’re not familiar with Lower Decks – and maybe you are, it’s fine – it’s an animated half hour show set in “recent” Star Trek continuity, the 24th century of the imagined future. The show doesn’t involve glamorous front-line flagships, but the Cerritos, a class of starship used for support, transport, “second contact” and less spectacular activities. The story also focuses on four friends who are “Lower Deckers,” relatively new spacefarers of low rank stuck with uninteresting and menial tasks, even if those drag them into adventures.

It’s Star Trek from the bottom up, but it doesn’t stop there.

The show is steeped in Trek lore, sometimes carrying concepts and even entire past episodes to their logical-if-ridiculous conclusions. People are used to strange energies evolving others into insane gods or temporarily switching bodies. First contact with aliens has to be followed up by someone doing the real work of shuffling around annoying diplomats and hooking planets up to communications network. For that matter, what do you do with all those monomaniacal computers endlessly plaguing alien civilizations – oh and has anyone checked up on those societies lately?

It’s every Trek trope and plenty of obscure lore falling on capable-if-neurotic shoulders of the Lower Deckers and the Cerritos crew. In many ways it’s akin to the Venture Brothers, which seemed to be a parody of cartoons, but was more of a heartfelt homage. Lower Decks just operates with a more defined property, the entire Star Trek janky extended universe.

It’s probably the most Star Trek of any Star Trek if you get my drift. I enjoy it because it’s not just another Star Trek show but an extrapolation by some talented writers.. The decades of continuity sort of roll downhill to the back-of-the-line Cerritos and the Lower Deckers.

It’s a kind of capstone for Star Trek, summing so much if it up in a way both funny and sometimes touching.

However, when it is done, I also can’t see Star Trek interesting me again. Lower Decks really does feel like a capstone, that there’s nothing more to do beyond this. Maybe that’s why the fact there’s even a Lower Decks RPG resonated with me – it feels like Trek has been done so often it’s best in everyone’s hands.

Thus I approach Lower Decks with a kind of bitersweet sadness. I’ve got the same Trek rush I got with TOS and Net Gen – but also it’s the end of that as well. I also know people will try to keep Trek going as its an institution – I just won’t be interested.

But I’m glad to have Lower Decks as a way to rediscover and close out a love of Star Trek.

Steven Savage

Well At Least It’s Done And Quiet

(This column is posted at, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my

I’ve discovered some interesting “minichannels” online, New Ellijay and Retrostrange.  New Ellijay serves a local town as well as carries various shows and music.  Retrostrange digs into weird films, instructional videos, and more.  Both also carry old films and serials that are easy to get ahold of and broadcast due to being public domain, etc.

I find such things interesting because old and historical and odd media fascinate me.  However something else struck me about watching old movies and long-ago-ended television series.

They’re done.

The movies will not be part of a gigantic sprawling cinematic universe that both requires a flowchart and requires you to navigate angry fans wanting a director’s cut.  Oh they might get remade or something, but they’re done.

The television shows are over.  They’re not going to continue forever.  They’re not going to jump from streaming service to streaming service with their future uncertain.  You know what you’re getting, even if it’s frustrated at a sudden stop.

(My friends who are on a Columbo marathon probably appreciate this).

Right now in an age of remakes, cinematic universes, reboots, streaming-jumping, and more knowing something is finished is a great comfort.  You’re getting a certain predetermined experience then you can go on – you can even check online info to find what you’re getting into.

They’re also not being hyped.

You’re not listening to endless commentary about these old shows and films – unless you run into an obsessive fan.  You’re not facing trailers of trailers to remind you of trailers.  There’s no breathless news and updates about the properties dropping into your social media.

It’s refreshing to see things that aren’t being endlessly tossed against my consciousness like fastballs.

I get the other benefits of these channels and other services with older, “finished” properties.  It’s not just history and culture and curiosity, it’s a lack of some very annoying elements of our culture.

Steven Savage